Android

Editors note: We're re-posting this after yesterday's mention of Samsung creating their own operating system by Verizon CEO Lowell McAdam. We don't know that anyone is doing anything at this point, but we thought it was a good time to reopen this discussion.

Android. The word itself makes each of us think of futuristic mechanical things that evolve quickly and know no bounds in their abilities. It's a good word, and perfect to describe the devices we hold with such high regard around these parts. And like the androids we think of from Hollywood movies or dusty old science fiction novels, our phones and tablets are slowly working their way into every nook and cranny of our life, taking over one step at a time. We embrace it, we benefit from it, and most of all we enjoy it.

But Android is changing. Very few phones are released with stock Android, and the custom versions (don't call them skins) are getting more and more intricate and polished. OEMs are putting a lot of work into the software running on the phones they sell, making them stand out as their own product. Join me after the break, and let's talk about what Android is, what it isn't, and what might happen in the future.

Android statues

What is Android? Sites like Wikipedia will call it a mobile operating system based on open-source code, but it goes deeper than that. Apple's iOS is also a mobile operating system based on open-source code, as was webOS, and even BlackBerry10 will be. But we don't think of any of those we we talk about open-source mobile operating systems. Even webOS was closed up pretty tightly, and the average hobbyist didn't have access to all the things they would have liked. Liberal licensing (much like the one used for the Android source-code) allows manufacturers to develop software and not share it back with the rest of the world. When that happens often enough, there's a pretty big rift in the way the software looks and operates when compared to the competition.

We're seeing that with what we call Android today. HTC, Samsung, LG, Motorola, and every other OEM can freely take the same source code you and I can use, make any changes they like, and only have to offer a small fraction of it for public inspection and use. The bits we don't get to see are what makes the magic of TouchWiz, or Optimus UI, and the companies that spent the money to develop them keep their secrets tightly guarded. We're at a point now where very few devices offered for sale run Android, and even Google Senior VP of Engineering Vic Gundotra calls his Galaxy S3 an "Android-based" phone. It's not just the big players and the for-profit folks doing it. The fellows that work hard on the CyanogenMod project have taken Android and made it into something they love, and offer methods and assistance with installing it on a slew of Android and Android-based phones. Yes, they belong right up there beside the billion-dollar names like Motorola and HTC -- they've earned that right, through work every bit as difficult and involved as anything from the big name OEMs.

Nexus

Samsung is a great example for our purposes here, because it has all the resources and money to lead the way in forking out its own OS from Android. Samsung has Bada, and it's working with Tizen, but it is making all their money (on the mobile front anyway) from TouchWiz. in TouchWiz, Samsung has made all the standard apps -- things like messaging, mail, news readers, and chat apps -- Samsung's own, and we have to imagine the code behind them is pretty different from AOSP. We don't know, because like any of the examples above, they don't have to share it. TouchWiz is not a skin. It's an operating system, just like Sense or Blur -- or Android.

That's not saying that any one flavor of Android is better than any other. Different does not necessarily mean better, or worse -- it means different. What's good for me isn't always what's good for you, and all the OEM Android-based versions offer up some great and unique things. Things that they will want to continue doing. Things that will surely drift them all further apart, as well as away from Android as we know it. All Samsung needs is their own portal to offer apps and media, and they could ditch Google's apps and strike forward on their own. We're seeing those portals become more and more prominent with each iteration of TouchWiz. 

Kindle Fire

It's high-time for us all to realize just how this could play out. We weren't afraid to say Amazon delivered a fork of Android with the Kindle Fire, so we have nothing to fear about Samsung -- or HTC, or Sony -- doing the same thing. I think it's something we're going to see happen eventually, because the big players (like our example of Samsung) surely realize how they could offer unique and "better" ways of doing things if they didn't have to adhere to Google's methods. Right now, every OEM has to follow certain guidelines when developing their platform so that Android apps from Google Play will work correctly. They can't develop things that break all the apps unless they have their own apps to offer instead. 

Call this fragmentation if you like. Many of us use open-source operating systems on our home computers. We know first hand that you can't install an application written for one OS, like Ubuntu, to another OS, like Fedora. They both might be Linux, but vendors have taken the core, and changed it in so many ways that programs need compiled to work within their parameters. Android is slowly turning into the same thing, and we don't just mean version numbers. How many time have you went to download a great game and saw comment after comment that it's broken for XXX devices? Developers not only have to code for different versions and different hardware, they have OEM customizations to the OS to contend with in many cases. "Busted on Galaxy S II" almost became a meme last year.

One X

Myself, I welcome these sort of changes. I like to fiddle and will always own a Nexus device. I want to be able to appreciate Android as written. But I also carry around an HTC One X as my daily driver phone. It's not perfect, and it's not quite Android, but I prefer the way it handles the things I need handled when out and about. Maybe we'll never see any of the big players fork off. But if we do, and I really think we will, we don't have to be afraid of it. 

 
There are 125 comments

AliffXL says:

In my opinion, i still call them skins, simply because........

1, they can run the same types of apps.
2, they have the same underlying code.
3, except for some special cases (Amazon......cough), most OEMs acknowledged the fact that they are running Android. (you know, showing the android logos, running Google apps and others)

KingDavid63 says:

I for one love it... I think this it what makes android android. As for them trying to turn it into there own os and ditch android all together it will fail in a big way... they better stick to what's working..

ejpisme says:

I agree. These little touches that are added on top of stock android are what keeps Android from becoming stagnant. I started off with a Samsung phone and now currently have an HTC phone. Although both android devices the little touches make it seem like a different experience. With better hardware and better optimization these "skins" are no longer a hassle.

chough says:

I agree

mwara244 says:

OEM's themselves called it a software overlay on top of android a couple of years ago in 2010 which is where the term "skin" came from. Now they are embedding the software straight into android trying to get a smoother product, but the terming was correct to begin with.

Even with OEM's getting the buttery smooth JB from android, I'm going to bet you will still get lag from Touchpiss and Sense with JB, even though JB in vanilla form has finally removed the "android lag" as its been called.

After my D1 i saw how bad the lag had gotten with the individual software manufacturer's and knew that my next phone would be a nexus. They never perfected their software on top of android which is very annoying, and imo shouldn't have been using it till it was perfected. It was not great and seemed like a beta test every six months seeing minor improvements for the past 2 1/2 years with the OEM's. Even the one x has had a myriad of bug problems when it came out with sense 4.0, from people on forums saying still, majorly improving sense but people after using it a while are getting annoyed with it too because its like an unfinished product. So for now until they perfect their own software mixed with android I'll stick with pure android.

Sered says:

Gonna have to disagree with a bit of this. Sense, at least on the HTC One X, does NOT lag. At all. Granted, I'm running the 2.20 software that they released not too long ago.

As picky as I am regarding UI speed and response, I cannot find fault with Sense. This may be because the S4 SoC is so fast, but it USED to lag on the previous 1.8 version.

Then, as opposed to now, with the way Motoblur used to be, early Touchwiz, Sense, etc; they have come a long way. Many of them are merely a whisper of how invasive and clunky they once were.

I think the most laggy UI I've used in recent memory was Blur, though it was MUCH better than it used to be.

crankyd00d says:

I do not agree. Sure we are getting better hardware but it doesn't help much if your HTC launcher uses 400+ megs loaded on memory, right there you killed the benefits of the extra RAM. I love HTC's hardware but they really need to optimize their software

Wicket says:

I think it would fail in terms of us that read Android blogs would stop buying from company X but average consumers would know no difference and still buy brand X calling it a Droid

StuartV says:

I definitely do NOT think this is a good thing.

As a developer, a platform that gives me any reason to feel like I have to test on and provide support for multiple different devices is a platform that pushes me away from developing for it.

As a consumer, a platform that makes me worry about buying a specific device because I'm not sure if all the apps I want to run will work on that specific device also pushes me away from investing in it.

Linux fragmentation, and the resulting support nightmare, is one of the many reasons I NEVER recommend any of my customers use Linux for their infrastructure or desktop environments. I would hate to see Android go even further in this same direction. It's already bad enough that any old ordinary "Android" smartphone user can't go to any old "Android" "expert" and get good help with problems with their phone. Instead, they have to find a TouchWiz expert or a Sense expert or whatever. Not good, Mav!

rcook55 says:

Wait, you'd never recommend Linux for infrastructure? Desktop I can understand but server side, your kidding right? Aside from an AD server there really isn't anything that a linux server can't do, and often better and cheaper, than any other server platform. I certainly wouldn't risk my web infrastructure on IIS that's for damn sure.

StuartV says:

1) AD is a BIG thing.

2) Google "middleware pet shop white paper". Middleware is a company that specializes in Java consulting (i.e. they are Java fans, not MS fans). Read their white paper. Their own benchmarks in their white paper showed (on a 2-, 4-, and 8-cpu system) that MS/.NET gave cheaper $ per transaction per second than 2 different Linux/J2EE platforms. AND, the code to implement the system was 2,000 lines in .NET and 14,000 lines on the Java side. Hard costs aside, just the difference in amount of code required is HUGE!! More lines of code means more bugs to fix and more programmers on staff to maintain them.

Uhh, so, no, I'm not kidding.

Oh, and the last major enterprise shop I was consulting in was about 50/50 Linux servers versus Windows servers. The staff there would tell you themselves (told me) that they have less problems and less occasions of having to reboot the Windows servers (including IIS) than the Linux servers (including Apache). People aren't running NT 4 any more....

dreanguish says:

You mean this?

http://bit.ly/RrBLbn

Funny, because they never actually provide any Linux benchmarks in that (10-year-old) whitepaper (hint: you can run a J2EE app server on Windows, too).

atmancloud says:

Lol, right. Sorry that's not what happens in our end.

kotoku says:

I am convinced you must just be messing with people.

1) Active Directory is, essentially, another Microsoft way of modifying a standard just enough to break compatibility with other efforts. http://www.openldap.org/ is an open source variant, takes care of it without the huge Microsoft Server bill.

2) The overhead for Windows Server is significantly higher, as opposed to my custom Linux servers running a variety of services in under 100mb of RAM at base load.

3) Price! The price of licensing their software is more than many small businesses need to spend on an entire server...set up a nice Ubuntu 12 install, and good to go.

Windows on the desktop? Convenient and ubiquitous. Windows on a server? What are you on?

k1ing says:

+1

plemelin says:

I too wouldn't recommend Linux to clients. Except for web servers. You may be able to do most things a Windows server can but not out of the box. For e-mail servers Exchange is king and should be. The integration with every Office product, Lync, CRM, Sharepoint and others for businesses is more than they could ask for. Nevermind the fact that Exchange rocks.

MrJazz says:

^ this.

dcds says:

"Linux fragmentation, and the resulting support nightmare, is one of the many reasons I NEVER recommend any of my customers use Linux for their infrastructure"

I'm not sure that, for the reasons to not use Linux there, "fragmentation" should be one.

I say: bring on the forks and let the strongest survive. As long as there is plenty of commercial support there (as there is in the enterprise Linux and consumer Windows desktop), we'll be fine.

I disagree on a lot of things there, but still, it's the well known debate of choice vs. dictatorship of the one-size-fits-all-model-for-their-bigger-profit model. Yes, I'm talking about the irony of the 1984 IBM parody. :-)

The problem with the lack of choice is that, although you don't need to research anything because others already choose everything for you, you pay the price of not having to choose: you can't choose at all.

garmiblis says:

I'm definitely with StuartV on this one. I have tried at 3 different points in the last 10 years to make linux do what I need to do in my day to day. Every time, it involved allot of research, allot of third part software that wasn't 100% compatible and still left me short of the mark.

I also spent 5 of those years as a network engineer and server tech. While Linux is cheap and is great for very basic servers, it requires in house coding staff if you really want to build and maintain a normal data center. The couple of companies, that were primarily linux based, that I contracted for to install new routers and switches kept having to halt the project to bring in someone who could work on the damned things.

The lack of consistency (aka fragmentation) the lack of a stable source of programs (aka developer community and marketplace) and the lack of a unified front are the 3 reasons why linux didn't supplant Windows years ago. And if android goes the same way, like Jerry suggests, then the Android world will crumble into bickering factions leaving us where we were in 2007 (Smartphone meaning Iphone).

If there isn't a common structure that developers can rely on to develop their app for a myriad of devices at one time, development cost will continue to rise. When development costs outweigh the benefits, the development community will dissolve. What has been the #1 reason why apple has been able to stand it's ground despite the explosion of android sales?...it's developer community. Everybody and their freaking cousin has an Ipon app. What do we get to hear about each week in the android world? "XYZ app has now been ported to Android..." wait for it "...from IOS"

I get to play winter themed games for St. Patty's day because it took an extra few months to be ported. This has been slowly becoming less of a problem as the developer community has become stable (meaning that developers can be fairly sure they will turn a profit). If we go backwards, by increasing fragmentation (or whatever gift-wrap and bow you want to put on it), then developers will not have that security and will spend their time developing for IOS and *shudder* windows phone. Android will become "hey, you remember that other company that gave apple a run for it's money back in the day?"

kotoku says:

Server software identified by total active servers:
Apache 44,965,707 53.38%
Microsoft 15,211,533 18.06%
Google 11,544,903 13.71%
nginx 7,293,935 8.66%
lighttpd 330,506 0.39%

The TOP500 project lists and ranks the 500 fastest supercomputers that benchmark results are submitted for. It then publishes the collected data twice a year. The June 2012 figures are below.
Source Date Linux Unix Mixed Microsoft BSD Based References
TOP500 June 2012 92.4% 4.8% 2.2% 0.4% 0.2% [53]

http://news.netcraft.com/archives/2010/05/14/may_2010_web_server_survey....
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Usage_share_of_operating_systems#Supercompu...

mindhead1 says:

+1

z0phi3l says:

I agree, they are skins or to follow the Linux standards DEs, and that fits almost better, just like you run Linux, you also run KDE, Gnome, Blackbox, etc, on top of the underlying Linux base, so the OEMs are running an Android core with their DEs over top, be it TouchWiz, Sense, or whatever Motorola calls theirs, heck even Amazon falls under this, they just skin the daylights out of Android

DWR_31 says:

This is going to be a long one.

Google knows what its doing. It made Android this way for a reason. I would love to see an OEM say screw Google and customize the framework to the point where only apps procured through their app markets will work flawlessly.
Now, the question that remains would be, "Is it profitable for them to do this?".
Once the OEM's start cutting access to Google they become Amazon. Samsung, HTC, LG, SONY, and whoever else are not in this to try and compete with Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Just look at what's happening with RIM, and what has happened to HP and WebOS.

The bottom line is these companies use Google's OS as a base for their iterations. And unless they have a truly colossal ecosystem to backup their move away from Google compatibility they're going to keep most compatibilities at the forefront.

The biggest example I can show is Amazon. You don't buy a Kindle Fire for Google content, you buy it as a portal into Amazon's ecosystem. Yes the Kindle Fire uses Android as it's base OS, but the modded OS wasn't designed with Google access in mind.

Cruiserdude says:

This is how I feel to a T. Sure, Samsung is definitely capable of writing their own mobile Java implementation on a Linux-based Tizen kernel, and running all their TW apps and UI on it, and make it look so similar that most people wouldn't know the difference. But the switch to their own content platforms and locking out Google's would be the key differentiator, and that would drive people away. Not to mention that doing so would drive Google to compete actively against them, rather than working closely with them as they currently do. As Samsung does not have a large content portfolio or a huge catalogue of user-made apps, such a project would be doomed from the start.

Samsung is intelligent enough to know this, and I don't see them pursuing it for their high-end phones, as it would not ultimately be a profitable or sustainable move. IMHO, the only reason they have set themselves up in such a way that they COULD make this move is to have a trump card; i.e., this encourages Google to continue working closely with them, and discourages Google from changing their supposed "hands-off" approach with Moto.

The Kindle Fire is indeed a great example of this. It takes the Google out of Android, and it shows. It only sold well because it was a decent tablet with an integrated content stream for only $200. What success it brought them only led Google to directly compete with them with a product that appeals to far more people, and we will continue to see Kindle Fire sales decline as a result. Amazon may have a bit of a content advantage, but there is enough awareness about Android that people prefer not to leave Google out of it. You can still load Amazon content onto a Google device, just not the other way around, so there is no longer a compelling reason to buy the Fire.

As none of these manufacturers have as large a content stream as Amazon, I don't see them attempting a similar move. Of course they could do it, but doing so would be quite risky, and likely doomed to fail. So while its interesting to ponder, and explain the fact that each manufacturer's version is technically a separate OS, I don't see premium devices moving out from under the Google umbrella anytime soon.

MERCDROID says:

I was with you until the Kindle Fire paragraph. The Kindle Fire sold as well as it did because of Amazon's name and content, and the price. While I'll agree that the Nexus 7 is a great tablet with great specs for the price, it doesn't appeal to a greater number of people than the Kindle Fire. Reason? It's stock Android; bone, stock Android. And frankly, the average consumer does not care about unadulterated Android or quad core processors. To be honest, the average consumer seems to prefer the "skins" that masks stock Android because of the many features that come associated with them. And about the part with Kindle Fire sales declining, that is pure opinionated speculation. Last year's Kindle Fire isn't selling anymore due to obvious reasons, its last year's tech. The new Kindle Fire series was just announced, so I doubt you or anyone knows how well it will be received until actual sales numbers are posted. Just saying... Otherwise, I agree with everything else.

dbltap says:

The one thing we need to remember about the success of the Amazon model... is the same thing we have to remember about the Apple model.... the target market is NOT the technical community. Over the years I have tried to get any number of my non-tech community to see the value of the changes I made for them. In every case.. they simply didn't care that what I did for them was cheaper and better technology. They wanted their content and all they wanted was to "click and play". Travel around anywhere in the world and do some people gadget watching. This is a big reason you see so many iPhones and iPads. "I can get it just by clicking and icon."

I rooted & CM7'd my g/f's Nook Color. She hated it. Too hard to use. She wanted to sell it and buy an iPad. Restored the stock Nook OS so she could sell it.... and now she loves her Nook again. "It's easy to read. I can click on the web site and books appear on my reading list." Same with her iPod. I gave her 45000 songs on a portable drive. Yet she would rather buy the song from iTunes than look for it on the drive. Because it's easier and, after all, only costs 99 cents.

This simple "click and play" eco-sphere is the key for a very large market. It's how Apple continues to be successful and how Amazon will be successful with the new Fire devices. Ease of acquiring content will trump technical superiority for a very large section of the market. And that doesn't matter WHO'S technology is involved. Google has a good start on this as a bridge between the two worlds. How successful it continues to be will depend on how easy accessing that content continues to be in the future.

littleemp says:

I prefer to think of it as cancerous bits of code that are damaging the reputation of Android (or keeping it from achieving the reputation that android could have).

If it wasn't for this, updates to older phones would happen much faster and without so much hassle. Companies like Samsung and HTC wouldn't be known for taking several months to upgrade their flagships and maybe even forgetting those lesser sold devices just because it doesn't make financial sense to update them.

And just to be clear, I'm not against the creation of OEM Skins (or whatever you want to think of them), but rather the ridiculous strain it places on both the manufacturer and the community's software development cycle.

jbrandonf says:

Hmm.. google programs android to run on a specific chipset too. So the OEMs have tactically port android to work on the chipset they chose for each phone. Even if they ran stock android it wouldn't guarantee that phones that didn't sell well would get updated.

z0phi3l says:

It's sad that so many people don't seem to comprehend this, hell even Apple doesn't update all their older phones to the latest, and even a phone one year older than the current may not get all the features the current model gets, yet no one whines about Apple fragmentation, but it's there.

In a "perfect" world with all Android phones running stock Android, most of the phones not getting updated would still not get said update, that's not fragmentation, that's the limits of the hardware

mwara244 says:

People that have used a nexus phone compared to the skinned phones find the os smoother running and less bugs too. Also this year there will be FIVE NEXUS devices from five different oem's. Forgot to mention that did you. If there are more nexus devices out there for people to choose from and from their favorite manufacturers I believe people will be buying the pure os than a skinned phone after they have had the chance to use it.

z0phi3l says:

That so far has been nothing more than a rumor, all we've gotten so far this year is the Nexus 7, that's it, there are no leaks or rumors of any other Nexus device, not even an updated phone this year, now maybe IF Google does release more Nexus devices this year, then maybe you will have a slight point, but it's still a maybe

tailsthecat3 says:

Yeah, to call these overlays "operating systems" is a bit much. AC is nonsensical.

Suntan says:

From an article a few days back:

" We can't knock HTC, they used the correct layout for their capacitive buttons (we do question why they went with capacitive buttons in the first place, though) and did what they were supposed to do. But it was still pretty darn ugly.

Then along comes Samsung, with a menu button on what will probably turn out to be the most popular Android phone ever in the Galaxy S 3. They shouldn't have done it (according to the Android developer team's way of doing things), but they did."

Now:

" That's not saying that any one flavor of Android is better than any other. Different does not necessarily mean better, or worse -- it means different. What's good for me isn't always what's good for you, and all the OEM Android-based versions offer up some great and unique things. "

We can't have it both ways.

-Suntan

prissysox says:

The first quote referenced Samsung going against Google design standards. It did not endorse one OEM over the other. Also the second quote is preference.

prissysox says:

I have the HOX and I like the Nexus devices as well but until they offer the same cutting edge hardware I will always choose HTC over Nexus.

z0phi3l says:

That's weird, why are you choosing HTC is you want cutting edge? HTC is even admitting that they can't compete with the big boys, and sadly unless they get their act together they will sink to the level of Huawei or LG at the bottom

Source or it didn't happen.

jbrandonf says:

When the hell did HTC say that? Also explain how the S3 is any more powerful in a noticeable way when it runs the exact same processor as the HOX (American versions)?

ddaydev says:

How is that so, HTC had the first (if i am correct) of both forms of high end phone, the one x and evo lte using tegra 3 and s4. Same went last year they released the s3 in evo3d, and despite lg lower markt share they are soon to release the latest beast of a phone with an s4 pro

VAVA Mk2 says:

Last I checked, the Galaxy Nexus WAS cutting edge for several months until the HTC One X came out.

Tal Shterzer says:

As much as I would like to agree, I must also disagree.

This is already giving developers a hard time, many of which simply prefer to nail their application on the iOS platform just for the sake of stability and the possibility of getting a high grade in the AppStore.

When the application fails on a certain Forkoid OS, the customers simply banter and down rate the app without giving the devs a chance to apply a fix. This causes the application to perform one last disappearing act from the Play store and we, the customers, will never see it again (not to mention the damages done to the devs).

storm14k says:

How much of this is really about skin differences? There's a compatibility test that these OEM's must pass to claim Google Experience. I haven't run across something that didn't work on another phone due to skin. The only time I see differences is with games and thats probably more to do with GPU. I think we really need to get to the bottom of what these differences and problems are and stop just stating there are differences and problems.

z0phi3l says:

Using the non existing fragmentation excuse just shows the "developer" to just be lazy, Google has gone out of their way to make it EASY to make an app for the current version of Android and yet still work on older versions, and even work well on different hardware and screen sizes, but since most coders will take the easy route that's what they do, then have the balls to blame Google for their laziness or bad programming skills

linh.nguyen says:

"Android is slowly turning into the same thing, and we don't just mean version numbers. How many time have you went to download a great game and saw comment after comment that it's broken for XXX devices? Developers not only have to code for different versions and different hardware, they have OEM customizations to the OS to contend with in many cases"

This is exactly why I don't like where all this is going. You destroy the Play Store, you destroy Android's viability in the mass market. And if that isn't important to folks, say hello to an Apple-Microsoft mobile world.

z0phi3l says:

Usually "broken" apps are because the Dev is lazy and is coding for a specific handset or it's a CPU issue, Tegra and the others are different, has nothing to do with TW, Sense or any other skin, once the devs learn how to program their apps to naturally support most handsets the only real issue will be the Tegra vs the rest issue

Eric Rossman says:

Thank you for pointing the Tegra issue out. Most apps will span OS versions and operate well on most SOC combinations; then there is terga hardware actually giving us a true fragmentation issue. Google seems to be cool with it, as it brings top game titles to the play store.

I feel the "made for Tegra" initiative is actually doing damage to Android as a whole. This should be obvious when you purchase a game for your SGS2 (like shadowgun), then you access your same google account on your Tegra based tablet, to find that you have to re-purchase that game for a "Tegra" version. I have seen other apps that have enhancements for Tegra that run on any hardware , more akin to the PC OS market allowing programs to run on any hardware (by standards like DirectX class or GL class), but the program runs better on specific hardware. To be in the Play store all, apps should have a base compatibility with all hardware qualified to run on a specific OS('s).

-no grief from me, just venting some frustration
-happy gadgetry to all :)

z0phi3l says:

Doesn't bother me as much, reminds of the days where games were designed based on the graphics chips, there were games made for nvidia or ATI, it didn't last long for obvious reasons, it won't last long in Android for the same reasons

supercopter says:

I think it all comes down to manufacturers interested in passing the Compatibility Test Suite (CTS) or not. As long they will see benefits in being "Android compatible" they won't be any real fork, just customizations.

http://source.android.com/compatibility/index.html

ishore99 says:

I am not much of a writer, so let me ask this question and leave it up to you the writers. Could this be the reason that Google has bought Motorola Mobility?

gcims says:

Good thought. Seems to have its advantages strategically in case Samsung, or any other OEM, has a sudden desire to not play nice with Google. Imagine what would happen if all the OEMs decided they did not like a new Android Guideline, for example "Absolutely NO hardware buttons". They all form an alliance to break from Google. Google, with their own ability to make hardware, can still put out Nexus devices. I am just waiting for something bad to happen in the ecosystem to upset the balance of power we have now.

Linebarrel86 says:

I'm very afriad Jerry.

Like you, I believe that the forking will come from the big players, namely Samsung. And when it happens, it's going to become the downfall of Android as a whole.

With the power Samsung wields, it can almost single-handedly destroy what Google is aiming to do. And when Samsung does this, what's next? Does Google buy HTC to save them? LG has other products to fall back on.

What if Samsung decides not to use Google apps? Stop using their ad service?

These types of things would be murderous to Googles search empire.

The thing is though, Google won't realize these huge impacts before its too late. Unless they strictly enforce certain things, we could see the downfall of our 'Android' very soon.

VAVA Mk2 says:

Should Samsung will ever do this, I will stop buying their mobile phones outright. I buy Samsung Android phones first and foremost for ANDROID. I have a Samsung Galaxy Nexus now, but to be honest, I think going forward my allegiance will be solely to Nexus devices.

Unibrow says:

Exactly, I love my Samsung android phones but without the google apps I wouldn't even consider them. I, personally, think verizon CEO is blowing crap out of his ass

Each company doing their own app store would only hurt Android as a whole. Fragmentation would surely drive new customers to a simple and unified Iphone. I certainly do not want to see that happen. I think Google needs to keep trying to unify the os like with all vendors using the same settings menu and layout for ice cream sandwich.

cookrd1 says:

As a Vz grandfathered unlimited data user, I must pay full price for my phone. I am not about to buy another Android phone that won't run the latest OS version in a year or so, and have to wait months for the next version or may never get bug fixes. I really le Android, but i am not into ROMming which usually results in a few things not working properly So, back to the iPhone for me.

rufflez says:

Last I checked, (looks down at Galaxy Nexus) the Nexus brand is available on Verizon... has been since December. Mine is running a custom ROM, but if you got a few hours, you can run your own non-custom, non-rooted, non-hacked version of Jelly Bean on a VZW Galaxy Nexus. Or... if you have less than 10 minutes, you can run someone else's that put forth the time to do it.

VAVA Mk2 says:

Same here. If you have a NEXUS device and you are not rooted and unlocked (let alone EVER running a custom ROM), then you are doing it wrong. That type of stuff are the sprinkles on top or the sweeteners to go Nexus. Will never look back after having one.

will54880 says:

Oh great, now apple fans can say android is all "forked up"

gcims says:

@Jerry
This is a wonderful piece you've written! I think it would be great part of a beginners guide for people new to Android. You beautifully outlined the the concepts that new or potential Android users ask me about all the time.

JGreenwood says:

I used to hate the OEM skins for a couple reasons. First, they slowed down the phones! This isn't really a big deal now that phones have faster CPUs with better architectures and more RAM. Second, I am a huge Nexus fan and figured these customizations would hurt Android as a whole, not allowing it to create the kind of brand recognition Apple enjoys. Well, this doesn't seem like a problem anymore either.. Fragmentation was a big deal when Android was trying to make a name for itself, but it's here to stay now. It's a good thing the OEMs are creating skins because Android's aosp base (Jelly Bean) has grown so fast and became such an excellent operating system that I wouldn't even consider buying a phone with a different operating system at this point.. In a world where Android almost phases out the competition, having some options as far as what UI (AOSP, Sense, TouchWiz, etc) will be great. As long as they still pass the Compatibility Test Suite, the OEM skins are helping Android become a more diverse ecosystem but being a guy that prefers AOSP and getting every last bit of performance out of my hardware, there should be an option with every skinned phone in the future to go back to AOSP! Oh wait that's CyanogenMod lol.

VAVA Mk2 says:

While we can get "skinned" OEM phones, the beauty of Android is if you later decide I want a more vanilla experience, just flash an ASOP ROM with little or no added features from the ASOP version of Android and boom, pure Google experience. Still, Nexus devices are the easiest to develop for and get more custom ROMs than other devices because of the ease to open the bootloader and run custom code.

richardodn says:

In my opinion, you'll continue to see vendors offer there own flavor but you won't ever see a true fork. Think of Android this way; it consists of the kernel (Android core based on Linux), the shell (launcher), and bundled apps (email, browser).

As a phone manufacturer, I'd want to continue to benefit from the evolving kernel. Although I could fork this, there really is no advantage. It's to my benefit to leverage these changes. So I think this part is out.

The shell is another story. This is a place I can differentiate my products. If I'm going to be successful, I've got to control my R&D costs as well as time to market with the emphasis on time-to market. What you'll continue to see here is vendor custom shells. The more successful ones will work on improving their internal processes to bring the shell in line with the latest Android drop faster.

Finally we come to the bundled apps. This is a place where I can try to open new revenue streams. For instance, open up my own media or app stores. I could improve integration with other product lines to promote other product lines. I could change my search engine provider. What I'll find is that some of these will work in some markets but not in others. In order to maximize market and revenue, I'll have to tune my release to each relevant market. This is a maintenance and support nightmare. Additionally, it will really hurt time to market. I think we'll see some experimentation along these lines but I don't see alot of successes. In any event, I don't think anyone will be too successful here. The only ones that might, are those that have a very limited hardware offering like Amazon. With few devices, it becomes possible to manage support and time to market. So this is unlikely to drive any of the big players to fork.

dd0yl3 says:

Great editorial thoughts on the future of Android. This why Google needs to make the nexus brand stronger. Use Motorola to make there own hardware and provide the best stock experience. It would only be a matter of time before the OEMs do their own thing. I think amazon has shown them the way and when someone purchases their product they want credit not Google. If the nexus brand can become as well known and strong as the galaxy s 3 then there would no problem. We would have a solid device that can be hacked , if wanted and looks good. People should say when they go to purchase a phone not that they want an adrioid but the next nexus, just the next iphone. Let Samsung, HTC, and etc use their own OS like touchwiz just based off android. It works for amazon.

kennydude says:

"We know first hand that you can't install an application written for one OS, like Ubuntu, to another OS, like Fedora. "

Have you used a Linux distro? How come we can run Gnome, KDE and others really easily? All you need to do is add a RPM package script.

I might have used one or two ;)

You forgot about the dependencies, the GCC versions, the /etc and /opt differences, any kernel security, user data structure, and quite a few other things that are distro dependent. 

Shadowriver says:

dependencies - what dependencies? Most distributions have same set of libeires avabale

GCC versions - does not matter... once software is compiled is not GCC dependent as image is not Photoshop dependent When you update GCC you not reinstall all software on your system.... not to menation you don;t have to install GCC at all

/etc differences - there little potion of ect being diffrent, the most diffrent is init scripts which is usally writeen by distro developers and package. If you not you write it by yourself, compiling software on distro wont do that for oyu magiclly either. Distro software config is diffrent too... because that software is diffrent, and ect is to made to carry it's config. If application is so dependent on distro specific configurations it can be prepared for that, but most stuff is common for all distributions, this also includes Android if im not mistaken as it use GNU software.

/opt differences - I can give you that :p but you can prepare software for that

kernel security - is kernel security... what this have to do with userspace? software puts in to account that it may not have access to something or therem ight be arror showed up somewhere.

Most importently, note that there 3rd party binary installations of Skype, TeamSpeak, RTCW:Ememy Territory and most noteable Flash plug in (which is not opensource and it'a avable in Adobe site in tar which works everywhere) they work on any distributions, because Linux can run any Linux binneries.

It's not that complicated. TouchWiz, Blur (you'll never live that down, Moto), Sense, and the others aren't skins. They are Distributions. They aren't based on AOSP, in most cases there's at least one degree of separation between AOSP and what the manufacturers use to make the OS that goes on their devices. HTC and Samsung don't get their software from Google, they get their software from Qualcomm and NVidia. Hardware drivers and tweaks are already in the base that these guys are working with.

At any rate, well written as always Jerry.

VAVA Mk2 says:

So they get a derivative of AOSP from CPU manufacturers?

Shadowriver says:

Drivers are are part of kernel in linux, driver written will work on any modification of kernel as long is follows mainline kernel which in Android case it is. In linux you might see driver packages, but that because they are invalid to GPL licance (they closed-sourced) and cannot be bundled with kernel as result.

eirigance says:

I for one would love for this to happen, it would force everyone involved to strive to be better than the next. Apple for instance changed the game w/ iOS (admit it, or not) & I'm good w/ that. Android improved it (imo) & if Samsung, HTC, LG, Motorola, etc want to stick their two cents in, so be it. I believe if not for Competition, or the fight for the consumers $ we would still be rocking that old Nokia w/ the Greenish little screen. I say, "Power to the OEMs"

eirigance says:

I for one would love for this to happen, it would force everyone involved to strive to be better than the next. Apple for instance changed the game w/ iOS (admit it, or not) & I'm good w/ that. Android improved it (imo) & if Samsung, HTC, LG, Motorola, etc want to stick their two cents in, so be it. I believe if not for Competition, or the fight for the consumers $ we would still be rocking that old Nokia w/ the Greenish little screen. I say, "Power to the OEMs"

p.s. Great Article :D

anthonok says:

All I know and care is that Google needs to make it mandatory that every app works flawlessly on nexus devices before other devices. They are the reference phone for developers so it should HAVE to work on it.

eirigance says:

@anthonok - AGREED!

lightyear420 says:

"Maybe we'll never see any of the big players fork off."

I'd like to tell HTC to 'fork off' with sense lol

I remember this line from engadget - Samsung is doing Android wrong.
Well, if you consider Android as what Google envisioned, Samsung is starting to get a bit too far. In fact, they're having their own ecosystem, one that may readily take over Google's. And of course, the menu button - it's not Google's Android.
It's a bit unfair really. Guys who stick to the "true" Android don't get credited or something, while guys who make their own Android succeed.

fria says:

The example of Linux is exactly why android's future could be shaky. Linux's biggest obstacle to gaining wider acceptance on the desktop is it's numerous distro. They water down Linux's methods and users and compete for software makers attention. In the same way, without the glue that Android provides, multiple skin development will likely fragment android to the point that they compete for app developers attention. The most popular handset makers will become dominant and so will their closed source software.

robnaj says:

I think android's Greatest strength is that most of the Google Play apps will work

jcgsville says:

We as consumers don't have to be afraid of it but developers do. Imagine having to write an app for iOS, android, touchwiz, sense, blur, optimus UI, etc. Not good!

Viochemist says:

Excellent article. I only wish you went further with the comparisons. What do Android, Sense, Blur, touchWiz, etc actually differently? Although, I probably have an unhealthy love of tables and charts :-)

ltredbeard says:

According to Jobs all Android devices are "XXX devices".

I'm throwing my upvotes at the screen but they don't seem to be working...

FordsCapri says:

I don't think Google is naive when it comes to this. The acquisition of Motorola insures their ability to make their own devices if they really want to or have to.

I guess the real question is would Samsung or any other manufacturer who decided to go the Amazon route with Android be able to make more money if they had their own apps and app store over just using Google Play? If not, what's the point?

z0phi3l says:

They can fork all they want, we will all slowly just migrate to the Nexus lines for the true Android experience, and then the OEMs will come right back once they start loosing sales, which is all they really care about

I agree. It'll just become the Google Nexus (running android). Just like Apple calls it the iPhone. Let Google find a manufacturer that wont interfere or use Motorola and build nexus type phones and devices from now on.

Chex313 says:

This makes Google in full blown odds with the OEM's...which I like! The phones they(Google) come out with should have Hardware specs that will compete. That is if they want to keep their share of the eyeballs. Otherwise they risk at some point not even being included on the OEM's phones. As long as Google keeps selling Nexi, we won't have to deal with variants/skins...and I am all for that.

AzD says:

The Galaxy Nexus, in practical use, lacks nothing compared to the current crop of flagship Android phones. It only lacks on paper for spec fetishists.

giograves says:

+1

I think that its more than a little but naive.to thhink that any significant number of average consumers will choose AOSP build over something from HTC or Samsung. Only techie people like those who frequent this site care about 'pure' Google experience.

MERCDROID says:

+1

jelias999 says:

I do see android branching off in the future as Samsung becomes the leader of the pack as its still the biggest one who hasn't toned down its custom UI
In my opinion that's a bad move though Motorola has toned down blur big time I own a droid razr and it looks pretty close to stock android and runs really smooth HTC has down the same for the most part with sense. I can see Samsung branching away for sure but don't forget Samsung is in a huge lawsuit with apple BC of that home button and all their phones look like the iphone. This is their biggest flaw I personally hate Samsung for this reason they don't innovate they have copied the whole way and anyone who can look at the s3 and say it looks nothing like the iphone is lying to themselves. This will be samsungs biggest flaw in my opinion. Idk maybe its just me I have had many different android phones and have loved android aosp is where its at though my razr is probably the only phone I haven't rooted BC it just works unlike my thunderbolt which was horrible with sense on it. I see some of the manufacturers branching off and some will become closer to stock android and if its Motorola I see Google going places they make a good quality phone and with stock android software and damn good specs they can keep ppl interested in what's new with Google rather than what Samsung is doing. Sorry I went in a rant I do not want to see android falter and the only way to keep it going is lower the skin customization and get the newest version to all the phones as quick as possible. I have seen many ppl who do not root or care to root their phones switch from android to iphone and for the most part it was due to a slow phone and constant glitches from custom UI

mcleodglen says:

looks like you don't know the iPhone app market very well. I thought "journalists" were supposed to do research before writing "articles"... there are several AR apps on galaxy that do this and more.

superlinkx says:

The part about Ubuntu and Fedora is actually kinda wrong. First off, you don't need to recompile most things. While Ubuntu and Fedora are very different on the surface (using different package managers WHICH IS WHAT MAKES INSTALLING A FEDORA PACKAGE ON UBUNTU NOT EASY, different skins for their window managers, and different versions of bits and pieces) They are still more or less the same. This is because they aren't different operating systems really, just different DISTRIBUTIONS. I could take all the bits of Fedora out and replace them with Ubuntu ones, and it would become a Ubuntu distribution. Sure it would be difficult, but fundamentally, any linux distribution could be morphed into a different one, just by adding,removing,upgrading,downgrading packages.

This also means you can install Fedora apps on Ubuntu and vise-versa, you just need to take the package apart and install yourself. Its more work, but if you know how the package is set up, you can fairly easily decompress it and copy the necessary files to where they need to be. Ubuntu's .deb files contain some installation data, as well as all the binaries, libraries, and docs being in the folder hierarchy that they are meant to be copied to on the system. This means, you just decompress them, copy them to where they belong (/usr/share/bin, /usr/share/lib, etc) and they should work*

*Of course, you will need to make sure you have all the prerequisite libraries and dependencies, but those should be declared somewhere in the install data.

dreanguish says:

To add to your point, to say that programs have to be "written" for one distribution or another is just totally incorrect.

MrJazz says:

Diluted Android = we all lose.

Dave4321 says:

Your comment on games not working on certain devices being an OS problem is simple ignorance. It is a hardware difference not an OS difference. Just as you used to need a certain video card to play some games on a PC. Android has nothing to do with it. In fact, the hardware differences can usually be overcome with a wrapper called Chainfire 3D.

Impulses says:

Yeah, this post is a nice editorial IMO but some of the facts between software differentiation and mods got a bit muddled with the fact that hardware differences are what's really at the root of most app incompatibilities... Sure, that goes back to software eventually, because it's mostly about the GPU and the divers for it... But still, it's a different issue altogether.

Samsung has had the most powerful GPU the last few years yet not the most compatible apparently. Meanwhile NVidia, who's known for their desktop GPU, has had some of the weakest but they invest a ton in developer programs so they end up with super optimized games for their hardware and they invest a lot in PR so sites like Android Central hype everything Tegra...

I'm not saying AC's on the take, just that their PR hype machine is very very effective at getting people talking about what has realistically been the weakest Android hardware thru the last two years. The lack of a NEON instruction set for Tegra 2 phones and tablets was a huge deal and many apps, large and small, had to be coded around that in order to get basic video functionality working on those devices... Yet the root of this issue was largely ignored by the press.

This approach worked fine for NV on the desktop but they usually had the hardware to back it up... It's a little unsettling that it's worked so well on mobile and it's potentially more damaging to the ecosystem than any software fork.

Impulses says:

As for someone like Samsung really forking Android, meh, I think you're overestimating how capable they are of it compared to someone like Amazon. For all the hooplah about TouchWiz, Samsung is still a relatively weak software and services company... Amazon had a much stronger base to start from and the Kindle Fire is still just the one device and not a definitive success, lower cost tablets like the Nexus 7 may very well make it irrelevant.

I'm not saying I'm opposed to Samsung attempting a true fork, because competition and innovation is always good, but I think it'd ultimately be a mistake for them. Even if they overcome everything Amazon hasn't, the market may very well decide they'd rather stick with a true Android platform with the tried and true apps they 're accustomed to. We're also ignoring the ever stronger push from the Nexus program.

Sales may not be booming for Nexus phones, and Google may be downplaying their importance... But actions speak louder than anything. Who did they go to for the Galaxy Nexus? The biggest US carrier, even making some comprises initially just to get the device on the network. Then, by all accounts, it seems they're expanding the program to multiple manufacturers this fall... I'm willing to bet we'll see Samsung participate, which would make it even harder for them to really promote an entirely different ecosystem.

You think Samsung can really convince Netflix, Skype, Amazon (Kindle), and a bunch of other services and content companies to make their apps available on a Samsung exclusive mobile market? Please, you're giving them far too much credit. They can't go about it gradually either because people they'd never gain any traction like that.

Impulses says:

Oh and can we stop perpetuating the myth that if it weren't for manufacturer mods all phones would see uber quick turnaround on OS updates?

That's simply a fanboy fantasy. Porting the base code from whatever SoC Google decided to use takes way more work than porting the software framework for Sense/TouchWiz, and US carrier validation takes just as long if not longer... Porting Sense or TouchWiz is merely a middle step in a very long process. When an old phone fails to get updated it's almost always a matter of economics, the manufacturer isn't making any money off existing users.

Google's decision to share the code for future updates with multiple partners before launching is a step in the right direction, but they should be working much more closer with Samsung, Qualcomm, TI, and NVidia... The carrier validation process is hopeless tho, only way around that (sorta) is getting a Nexus device and even that's not a guarantee with some US carriers.

i say let them do what they want to do. if tizen is better than android...then i will have a tizen phone. if it fails, then there probably will not be any straying from android anytime soon from any of the oems.

are there still going to be five nexus' released this year? was that just an unfounded rumor? i am dying to know. the podcast 103 put some serious doubt in my mind on this. i sooo dont want to be stuck with another samsung phone. it would be nice to choose my build quality.

mtmerrick says:

where's the 'dislike' button for this article?
How would Samsung (or any other OEM) making not-quite-compatible 'android-based' devices that have different, incompatible ecosystems be good for ANYONE?
If I wanted a not-quite-android device I'd but a fusion garage grid device. Maybe a nook.
Android is squashing its competition because of its unity. User choice, but all choosing from a selection of the same thing.
If there was, say, a Touchwiz OS, who would buy it? If you can't get the software (apps) you want/need, what good is it? People use Google services. People LOVE their apps. I've met people who wouldn't buy a windows phone 7 because it lacked angry birds. Yes, people are that shallow. No one is going to jump for a new ecosystem that has no software and no userbase. The ONLY reason the kindle fire sells is its price. If the kindle fire was cost $500, would anyone buy it? No. Just like the only reason the HP touch pad sold was its $99 sale price, the only reason kindle fires and nooks sell is because of their price. And now that other OEMs are coming in and matching (or beating) them in price, they're going to drop off because I GUARANTEE you, if you stop any consumer in the store, they'd rather have something that matches, works with, coexists with what they already have.
In fact, the person who knows this best is - I hate to say it - apple. The iPad was sold completely on the I phone's success. Everyone I know with a mac bought it because of their iDevice and how nicely they play together. Google has a much stronger ecosystem than apple, so what would happen if Samsung split off, hmmm?
I guarantee you, everyone - even my grandmother - is more loyal to their OS than their current manufacturer.

Embluss says:

This is a nightmare scenario. I can't even imagine the horror! Windows phone, man! Windows phone HAVING A MARKET SHARE! And Lo, it shall be the fault of those oft-cursed handset makers.

Although, this could double as an argument for beefing up the nexus line, perhaps with that little handset company Google acquired the other day... IMO, Google needs to offer more than just the highest of the high end. Android aficionados with lower budgets should be able to enjoy pure Android goodness.

Plus, TouchWiz and Sense can stick it.

Qoheleth says:

I don't actually know the demographics, but an educated guess would place the folks that buy Android-based phones about evenly divided between those who buy Android because they want Android and those who bought that particular phone because it had the functions they wanted. For the later, the fork argument sort-of works. The next phone these folks buy will also have the functions they want even though it might have a completely different OS (let alone "skin," "umbrella," or "GUI," whatever you want to call it). They might complain because they have to transfer all their contacts (again) but that's the extent of it. They don't care about OS or GUI. They just want a phone that does stuff.
As soon as you get to the app-buyers, whether they're all the way over in the group 1 or just hanging on the edge of group 2, that all changes. Even though you've only invested $0.99 in an app, it galls you to have to buy it again because it doesn't run on the new phone. Some app writers are nice about it and give you a discount on a side-grade to a new OS, but most don't. An OEM would have to have a lot of really good apps available, so much better than the stock apps that it would salve the annoyance of having to abandon perfect good apps that you've already paid for.
As a corollary to the above, you also have a problem with app writer adoption. There are thousands of Android apps out there that provide some functionality for specific platforms: There's an xFinity app and a Uverse app. There's a slough of carrier-specific apps. There's a WordPress app and a MailChimp app and so on. If the fork creates incompatibility, then all these apps need to fork as well and some app creators just won't invest the time and effort for a relatively small slice of the larger pie. They may just hope, as has happened before, that the OEM comes back to their senses.
For group 2 (the Android buyers) you have a hard (maybe impossible) sell. Do I really want to buy a device where I'll have to go through off-loading or synching or translating my e-mail, contacts, and all the rest when I can get an Android device and do that by entering my email address once? Do I want to assure that I'll be among the absolute last, if ever, to get some of the neat new functionality Google releases in the next version of their OS?
All of this makes me think that an OEM or carrier that decides to fork Android significantly will only garner huge losses as their collective buyership shouts a resounding "no way!"

Xial649 says:

I don't think there is anything wrong with Companies continuing to differentiate their UI for their own devices, but honestly I wish more companies would release stock Android software these days. Skins made sense when stock android was sort-of shitty (pre-ICS i like to call it), back when android was a laggy, ugly, and frankly uninspired OS... But now with the release of Jelly Bean I feel that stock android is such an appealing piece of software with so much style, flair, and technical stability and smoothness that I feel many consumers out there might just WANT pure android over most skins out there... And so this leads me to my conclusion:
OEMs please continue to make your custom skins over stock android for your devices, but please realize that the sooner some of you begin pumping out stock Android-based high end devices, the sooner your profit margins will go flying through the roof.

IMO Stock Android is now much more of a selling point for a device than "TouchWiz" or "sense"...

ANDROID FOR LIFE :D

dmevis says:

You may also be describing the "death" of Android...

At some point, the Samsung's of the world are going to have so much invested in their customizations that they can no longer afford to apply them to the latest release of Android. That means that at some point, Google will release Android version x.x, and nobody will even use it, because the Samsung's have so heavily customized the older versions that they can't afford to apply all of those customizations to the new version. The costs of would be prohibitive.

Aside from loosing all of the new Google/Android goodness, this will lead to serious FRAGMENTATION. It will not take long before Developers have to customize their applications to work on the HTC, Samsung, etc. customizations.

CeluGeek says:

I still think Samsung and HTC will eventually do it. I'm not surprised of Samsung forking out Android -- heck, I really want them to do it and cut Google out of the picture, after Google's poor display of support for its biggest hardware partner in Apple's patent-trolling case.

dmchenry35 says:

Not that it's a big deal or anything but iOS isn't open source. It's closed with some open source components.

And neither is BlackBerry OS 10 going to be open sourced.

yurasis says:

TouchWiz/Sense/etc. are certainly not skins, more like flavors of Android, like ( kind of ) Redhat and SUSE are flavors of Linux.

However people will continue to call them skins ( and that's OK with me ) because it's a more familar concept and term, Jerry and Phil need to accept this and move on past their "It's not a skin!" angst. Let go, boys, let go!

johnny99 says:

Customizations that prevent manufacturers/carriers from quickly upgrading phones to new Android releases are evil. Period. Manufacturers should offer their special features through apps that do affect the ability to upgrade.

exMachina says:

I think Android is all about the user. Being able to turn any android base device into his own. With ROMS and OEMS and Skins, android allows us to tailor how we want our devices to look and feel. Apple devices are amazing but I think its a totalitarian system that prevents the users from making their devices unique. Is there a fork on the road, yes there is. We've seen technology go from breakthrough to mainstream then turn into something that doesn't even resemble its original billing. For us android users this is good news. Tons of talented developers are tinkering with the ecosystem and enhancing the android way of life. I dont know what android would look like next year or in couple of years, but I know we users can decide how far and where we can take this system.

roninpenguin says:

If any manufacturer ever breaks away from the Android and Google ecosystem I won't be buying that phone. I have invested both time and money in gathering the apps that I use every day to make my phone what I like and I am not going to start over (otherwise I probably would have dived into Windows Phone by now). I'm pretty sure that it will take something major to get most people to do that as well.

To me, it is always good to have variety in any given filed, while keeping some standards and compatibility. The Iphone is what it is due (in large part) how unified its ecosystem is. Android is designed to be tempered with, but companies must respect the core aspects to prevent the compatibility fiascoes of the past.

I really believe Samsung is in a great position to carve their own market with their own technology and OS. With 3 competing operative systems on the industry we can be more confident that innovation and new paradigms are developed and stimulated.

I'm excited to see where all this goes on the long run... We are all witnesses of a ongoing revolution.

IceDree says:

Great article Jerry ... as always

Personally, I prefer the OEM frameworks (aka skins) over the ASOP Android , but I gotta give it to google they managed to tune Android a lot with ICS & Up (havent used JB yet) , pre ICS was Fugly !

ASOP & Nexus aren't for me though , I prefer Blur or Sense.

Plus, I think that the OEMs work is what gonna help Android NOT ending like Symbian ...

If Samsung wanna dump Android in favor of Bada OS, let them , they will go back crawling to Android

Shadowriver says:

Look on Google TV and SMART TV

exaugeo says:

I'm glad to see that Sammy is adding multi screen functionality to tablets. This is a step up from building their own launcher and lock screen. There are a lot of apps I don't want to take up the whole screen so this multiscreen function is great for multitasking and sharing between the apps. Hope multiscreen will get folded back into android.

plunder says:

I do wonder if the level of divergence we are seeing will make some applications totally device specific. That has to be a pain in the bum for all developers.

By creating their own flavour Samsung became more vulnerable to the Apple attack; provoked it seems by the mix of physical and software design (some would say it was the success of Samsung's phones that really drove this process). Apple favour the divide to conquer approach with Android. So is divergence a more risky option?

nobodyagain says:

The Linux thing mentioned I would say is slightly wrong. Android is a form of Linux. When mentioning Fedora and Ubuntu they are different from each other...using different repositories and packages like .deb and.rpm etc.but all the android devices use apk's as app packages. I would say it's more like Ubuntu and Linux Mint. Both use Debian base but Ubuntu has unity and mint has cinnamon on top (after an Ubuntu mix) Any way they are all using Linux kernel. Android too. Sense, Touchwiz, Blur - They're just different distros on top Google's ICS, JB etc. I feel however those that venture too far (from base) will be left behind.

There's a difference between a boob job and a heart transplant.

Sense, touchwiz etc: boob jobs
Kindle fire: heart transplant

Splitting off would not be good, the system how it currently is, works fantastically. Just look at the Samsung app store (remember that?) Full of junk :S dont do an apple and force people to choose between app stores

Shadowriver says:

I would not compire distributions to diffrent modifications of Android.... in fact you can say Android is Linux distrbution by it self.

Linux distributions are not braches of linux, not a forks.... because there nothing to fork or branch, Linux by it self is a kernel and yes you can install software to it by yourself from 0...... but thats painful process that takes a lot of time to even justify usibility of the system, thats why people show up that created managment and installation software to make it easier to use. In fact you see exact same behavior in other plug-in or configuration complex software like Miranda IM, Total Commander, Server software (XAMPP for example).

Lot of people misunderstand distributions as diffrent OSes because they tend to look diffrent.... but they practicly the same just with diffrent composition. I don't know why there compilation problems, there also bineries that work on any distributions. Some people (specialy Debian mutants users) are not even aware how diffrent distros looks like they all refere to "sudo" (which is not set up by defult in a lot of distros) and "apt-get" like there nothign else and it's integal part of Linux.... which is isn't apt is Debian pakage managment system

maxnicks says:

I have a:
1. VZ Galaxy Nexus JellyBean (rooted)
2. Motorola Xoom 4G JellyBean (rooted)
3. OG Kindle Fire

MY Nexus and Xoom are virtually identical because I made them that way.

The Nexus does everything I need when I'm out of the house.

The XOOM takes over some of those functions when I'm home or travelling.

I use the Kindle Fire for most of my reading and Amazon Prime movies.

I like the size of the Kindle Fire much more than the XOOM. I can see myself replacing the XOOM and Fire with the next generation Nexus 7 or possibly (gasp) a similarly sized Windows 8 tablet.

IMHO, I see only added benefit by other companies using Android to branch off with their own skin or variant OS. Afterall, they are all Android. If there's something with awesome hardware specs at a reasonable price, for people like me, rooting and burning a new ROM is always an option.

toonhead85 says:

I read only about half of the comments and I see a lot of reference to the Kindel FIre (HD) and Amazon. I think it's good that people are taking Android and branching off. It creates good competition!

What I dislike is phones (like the One X and GSIII) not following Android, but calling themselves an Android phone. It's simple things like, Google wanted to go SoftKeys from 3.x out. Why are new phones still coming out with capacitive keys? Either be part of the club or dont... dont do things 1/2 way - I see you HTC Movie store, or whatever its called, next to my Play Movies.

bytewise says:

'Forking' is ultimate nightmare for any company that has invested a lot in open source.

The OEMs can innovate and compete while within the Google framework. They don't have to fork a perfectly working and viable system. Remember the reason they fork is not necessarily to improve the technology but create their own walled off garden(Think Amazon with its own ecosystem).

Having been an Linux and open source user on the desktop for more than a decade(and praying for the year of desktop linux)I am so pleased at last to see a vibrant ecosystem based on open source.

Amazon started off with a good brand value and ecosystem(shop,books,music, movies etc.,) which is why it might be successful as an Android fork in the long run. But other OEMs - even Samsung with its massive market, might struggle to create an ecosystem to compete with Google and Android. So at least the smaller ones will stick with Google for now.

OEMs forking off is a bad thing for Android and open source in general. If it leads to the downfall of Android no other major player will invest in open source in the future. It will be a boon for the proprietary vendors like Apple and Microsoft.

hoosiercub says:

I don't see anything quite like that happening. Samsung stays with Android for the single most important/profitable reason to have a popular OS on your devices. Android has it's own ecosystem, Samsung plays the game differently with TouchWiz, but they can still fall back on Google's services.

If they were to move away from that, say the Galaxy S 5 with their new forked OS. It looks a lot like TouchWiz on Android did, except it's actually it's own OS. How could someone sell that to a customer over an actual Android based device. They're going to ask, well will it run Gmail? will it run the Android Market? The answers will be no, they'll have to explain to them that they will have to use Samsung's implementation for obtaining applications. So that would mean no more Foursquare, Facebook, or Flickr. Unless Samsung took the time to work with the companies who write these applications, paid for the rights to do so, and rewrite them for their new OS. There is a severe disadvantage to trying to fly solo when it comes to the mobile OS space. You're lacking the backbone that holds you up. I don't think a company as big as Samsung or LG would take that big a risk financially and just for their reputation.

I mean look what happened with the Grid 10, they had a unique fork of Android, a great product and a smooth presentation/style. They relied on their own unique applications tailored specifically for their product. It didn't work out and now they're just linkbait of times gone by.

leaponover says:

It kills me that there is so much naivete that no one sees where this is leading. Android is, and only will be as good as it's app store. If a major company was able to get enough of a leap on this "fork" and if Samsung took touchwiz to the next level it may break a lot of android apps. Then, developers have the choice, try to keep up with their apps working for Samsung, and every other manufacture, or scrapping the rest and just developing support for Samsung phones. Suddenly, Samsung opens their own app store and they have such a huge piece of the android pie bam, they suddenly eclipse any strength that Google has in their app store. Things could go down hill VERY quickly. To not realize the danger of this is silly and that's the only reason Google keeps making developer phones. Hopefully people would not support a rift if Samsung tried to fork too much.

Agree Totally

In MHO I'm concerned that the overlays are going to start up the whole mess we had with windows, a new version comes out that is so resource intensive that the hardware side had to play catch-up with the next development cycle, then more 'stuff' got added on the sofware side again that only a new hardware spec would fix and on it goes. Samsung is already using 2Gb RAM on the their newest phones(probably to offset TouchWiz requirements) when everyone mostly uses 1Gb or so. We were starting to see a trend where folks like Motorola started lightening up on Blur, bringing it closer to AOSP than ever before with the Ice Cream Sandwich release for the Razr family. It will really suck if Samsung, LG, Moto and others start making their software so 'unique' that developers have to make a version of their software for every OEM product. This really sounds like those days with Pocket PC when there were AMD CPUs, MIPS CPUs and Hitachi SH CPUs. That was a friggin nighmare because Dev's had to code for three different CPUs as none were compatible. It nearly trashed the Pocket PC market until things got sorted out.
Don't laugh but I think HTC was onto something with the last versions of Windows Mobile devices before Microsoft brought out WP7 and the wheels fell off. I still have a retired Imagio that had a Sense overlay, but simply by picking a new 'Today' theme you could use the vanilla Windows Mobile UI if you chose. I think it would be great if all of the above mentioned OEMs did the same thing, and allowed running AOSP Android if the user preferred it. Then we actually see if users truly like the overlays - if given the chance to opt out if desired.